Battling Bruin: Natalie

Posted January 2014

In February of 2012, Natalie’s softball coach noticed that while running the bases she was constantly holding her right arm up in a fist. Since there were no other symptoms, nothing was done at the time. As more time passed, though, her parents noticed that she was starting to do this more often - not just while running. That summer, Natalie was sent to see a neurologist to discover the cause of this unusual habit. She agreed that Natalie’s posturing was noteworthy and sent her for an MRI. Unfortunately, the MRI came back showing scar tissue damage in Natalie’s brain. At the time, the diagnosis was that she had suffered a stroke, and from then on she was continuously monitored. When this occurred Natalie was still fully active, healthy and was even preparing to compete in gymnastics.

In January of 2013, Natalie began to have seizures. Her seizures were categorized as petite focalized seizures. They essentially caused her to freeze up and lose the ability to speak anywhere from thirty seconds to 4 minutes. She experienced a few short hospitalizations in January while physicians were trying to adjust the medications to control her seizures.

During the middle of February 2013, Natalie was hospitalized for the fourth time. During this stay, she experienced several setbacks. Because she was on so much medication to try to stop the seizures, she was asleep for most of the day and ended up on a feeding tube. She had three bouts of pneumonia, lost a great deal of weight and no longer had the strength to walk. After a couple months with no positive changes, a brain biopsy was done to try to determine the cause of the seizures. The biopsy showed inflammation in the brain. Natalie was diagnosed with Rasmussen Syndrome given that no other cause could be determined. The recommendation for treatment was having a hemispherectomy, which would mean removing half of Natalie’s brain in order to stop her seizures.

That June, Natalie was transferred to the UCLA Medical Center for a second opinion and a surgical consult. Finally, at this time, she began to improve and was released to go home after 8 days at UCLA. Doctors were not able to confirm the diagnosis, but they have not been able to find another one either.

Since returning home, Natalie has continued to improve and get back to her normal life. She returned to school full-time in the fall (after missing 5 months last year) and is happy to be back. She is a member of the UCLA Jr. Spirit Squad for a third season, and her parents think this has been a great motivation and source of physical therapy for her. She hopes to be back in gymnastics soon as well. Though she remains on a great deal of medication, her seizures seem to be controlled. Natalie is a very determined girl and continues to get stronger every day. She certainly has the persistence of a Mighty Bruin!

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